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This time I don't leave early for break, even though I am starving, and it is a good thing I didn't. On the last hand, I finally get dealt a pair of Aces, the best possible starting hand. I raise, most of the table folds and leaves to take their break, but one of the nondescript players at the table re-raises me. I re-re-raise, he goes all in, and I call. He's got a pair of Kings, the second best starting hand, so very rough luck for him. My hand holds up and I eliminate another player, putting myself at about 30,000 chips after four hours of play, which is about what the average stack will be when we break for the day eight hours from now. Sweet. I buy a fruit salad and a Casear salad (I'm trying to avoid all the heavy, greasy food they are selling in order to keep myself sharp) and get back to my table just in time.
Level 3, blinds 100-200. Usually when I've got a lot more chips than the rest of the table, I start getting very aggressive, but right now the blinds are still so small relative to our stacks that I decide I'd rather preserve a less aggressive image so that I can get away with more bluffs later in the day. I open up my game a little bit but mostly just play strong when I have a strong hand.
We've got three new players at the table: a Russian girl wearing a Poker Stars shirt, a French guy who I don't recognize but who is apparently a pretty successful player on the European circuit, and a Frecnh Canadian sporting a WSOP bracelet, which means that he has taken first place in one of the dozens of smaller events that precede the main event each year. I later learn it was a $3000 No Limit Hold 'Em tournament, which means he probably took home a $500,000+ prize. His name is Andre and he is sitting immediately to my left, which is not good for me, as I will almost always act before he does. We have our hour and a half dinner break after this level, so there is no need to leave early and beat the crowd. Once again, it's a good thing I stuck around, because on the last hand before the break, someone raises from early position (meaning he probably has a strong hand, since there are so many people still to act behind him) and I call with a pair of 10's. Now Leeza from Charleston re-raises, and even though I have one of the best possible hands, I am 99% sure that she has me beat, because she is just that predictable of a player. But this is why I say it is bad to be so predictable: she has just won a big pot from the Russian girl and has so much money in front of her that I call even though I know I am behind, because if I happen to catch a third ten on the flop (which I will about one time in eight and a half), I think I can win her entire stack of nearly 20,000 chips. So I call and the flop is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful 10 9 2, giving me the best possible hand. She has no way of knowing that, though, and I am very confident that she believes she has me beat. She bets, I go all in, and she calls me with a pair of queens. I am a 95% favorite to win this pot, and indeed my hand does hold up, so I eliminate a third player and now have almost 55,000 chips, which is like three or four times the average stack right now. I'm sorry to see Leeza go, because she was very nice and was the first person I met at the table, but she takes her bad luck with a lot of class and grace, wishing me luck and telling me I have played very well so far.
I end up buying some pizza during the break because I need something more substantive than fruit and lettuce and they have very few vegetarian options. The pizza is surprisingly good and reasonably priced. I make a couple of phone calls to update people on my progress and then head over the Gaming Life Expo, which is a trade show where online poker sites and vendors of poker-related memorabilia have set up booths. I am on the phone with my girlfriend, and the following conversation ensues: Me: It's been a lot of fun, I've met people from all over the world: France, Canada- HELLO, those girls are in their underwear. Her: Excuse me? Me: Uh, from uh, Canada, and, uh... [about thirty seconds of silence] Her: Kinda lost your train of thought there, huh? As I should have remembered from my one experience at a car show, trade shows marketing products to a primarily male audience rely heavily on scantily clad women as a cheap but effective advertising ploy, and boy howdy was this expo full of them. But I'm trying to stay focused on poker right now, so I make my way back out of the expo and wait for the game to start up. Level 4, blinds 100-200: Once again, my tablemates return from break to find one of their number gone and me sitting on an even larger pile of chips. Leeza is replaced with an older man named Frank Johnston. He looks familiar and the Canadian to my left seems to know him. I get the impression he is a well-respected pro, and maybe he is good at cash games, but after playing with him for six hours, I really think he is a terrible tournament player. He was just playing much, much, much too tight and losing too much of his stack to the ever-rising blinds. We've had a very relaxed and friendly table, everyone joking around and having a good time, but Frank wants no part of it. He sits in his corner with a sour look on his face and fold fold fold fold folds. He finally raises, and Andre the French Canadian re-raises him. I think to myself 'wow, I think I would only re-raise that guy with like two hands' and sure enough Frank folds and Andre shows him a pair of Aces.
I get a little more aggressive this level, as the blinds are a little higher and my stack is even larger relative to everyone else's. Andre starts giving me trouble, calling or re-raising me fairly frequently. Now ordinarily in this situation I look for an opportunity to come over the top of someone who I think is trying to take advantage of me. I like to raise a lot of hands, and that strategy won't work if someone to my left is playing back at me every time I get involved in a pot. But Andre is better than my average opponent, and sitting on top of his chips is a note he has written to himself: "Prend ton temps", French for "take your time." On several occasions I seriously consider making a move on him (I have four times as many chips as he does, so I have the ability to put him to a really tough decision without putting myself in serious jeopardy), sometimes thinking for over a minute, but I always convince myself to fold, and every time he shows me a strong hand. It's a very good sign that he is showing hands to me: it means he respects me and wants to avoid a big confrontation with me by letting me know that he isn't just trying to put a move on me. The middle-aged bearded internet semi-pro and the older guy who's been at the table since the start get eliminated and are replaced by a young Brazilian kid wearing a Party Poker shirt and a pretty tight Greek player. Nothing much happens at this level to me, and I finish with about the same number of chips I started with. Level 5, blinds 100-200 with a 25 ante- Now, in addition to the forced blind bets that each person pays once every ten hands, everyone has to put 25 chips in the pot before every hand. That means that before any cards are dealt, there are 500 chips in the pot. Now is really the time to start getting aggressive with my big stack to steal these inflated pots.
I get away with a couple of steals before the table starts getting fed up with me. The Brazilian and the Norwegian (Marius is his name) are the two playing back at me the most, but they both pay for it in the end. The Norwegian starts with better than 30,000 chips, a very healthy stack for this level, but loses about 6,000 trying to bluff me when I have two pair (one of the benefits of being aggressive is that you get a lot of action when you do have a good hand). I back down to the Brazilian a couple of times, but then he loses a big pot to Andre and I can tell he is getting frustrated. I've been raising a lot with marginal hands, but finally pick up a pair of queens, the third best starting hand, and make my usual raise to 600. Andre calls me for the bazillionth time, and then the Brazilian goes all in for about 6000. I call, Andre folds, and the kid shows and 8 an a 3, one of the worst possible hands. I knock him out, and when he leaves, the whole table starts commenting on how incredibly bad that play was by him. This really surprised me, because although he didn't choose the best time for it, his play was not as bad as it might seem. If you look at it from his perspective, he saw me raise (which I've done plenty of times with less than stellar holdings) and Andre call (which he's also been doing a lot.) There are now 2000 chips in the pot, and by going all in, he is risking 6000 for the chance to increase his stack by 33%. Morevoer, it will be very difficult for me to call without a very strong hand, even if I suspect he is up to something, because I still have to worry about Andre behind me. And since Andre only called me rather than re-raising, that suggets he has a good but not great hand that he might not want to call with. So in this case, it might be possible for the Brazilian to get away with going all in with absolutely anything, since there is a very good chance that both Andre and I will fold. Unfortunately for him, I had one of the best hands I've had all night, and I win another big pot. I quiet down for the last half hour of this level and go on break with 80,000 chips. I don't know for sure, but my guess is that of the 1100 people remaining, I am in the top 5 in terms of the size of my stack.
Level 6, blinds 200-400 with a 50 ante- We resume play at 1 AM, and I have now been away for 19 hours straight, and at the Rio for 16 hours. I am really starting to feel the fatigue, but I know that everyone wants to make the second day and probably feels as tired as I do, so this is a good opportunity for me to steal some pots and take advantage of tight players. The Brazilian is replaced by a middle-aged guy in a BetHoldEm Poker shirt. His very first hand at the table I end up putting him all in, holding a weak hand but pretty confident he will not want to risk busting out. Sure enough, he folds and I win a substantial pot. Welcome to the table, buddy. A few hands later I double him up though, making a pretty loose call when he re-raises me all in. I'm still not sure whether my call was good and I was just unlucky his hand was as strong as it was or whether I should have just folded, but it only cost me 6000 of my 80,000 chips and it is important for me to show people that just because I am raising a lot doesn't mean I will fold any time I am re-raised. I lose some more chips on a bluff, and again it is hard for me to say whether this was a good play and I was unlucky to run into a strong hand or whether it was bad play. Soon, however, I make a definitely bad mistake that I can attribute to being inexperienced at live play and dog tired. Basically, I was involved in a sizeable pot and didnt end up with a very big hand. I thought the Greek had bet 1000, and there was like 12,000 in the pot, so I said "call" even though my hand wasn't that good. Turns out he had bet 5000, which I never would have called. Ugh. I was angry at myself for this, but I resolved not to let it get to me. I decided I was too mentally drained to keep playing so many marginal hands, so I decided that even though the table conditions were right for aggressive play, I just didn't have the mental stamina to handle a lot of tough decisions. So I backed down, mostly just raised my good hands, and finished out the last two grueling hours.
I wasn't the only one getting exhausted, though. The French pro had been ribbing the Greek for a while, telling him Greeks were the laziest people he knew, which is ironice because the French player had been getting the world's longest massage (there are legimitate, fully clothed massage therapists working the floor, none of that "happy ending" stuff) and was joking about how relaxing it was, and afterwards he literally fell asleep at the table! It was an exhausting but also exhilerating and fascinating experience. Although I was frustrated with myself for making such a big mistake at the end of the day, I feel like on the whole I played very very well, was lucky enough to find myself in some very profitable spots, and finished the day in great shape with 57,000 chips (30,000 is the average). Of the 2400 players who began play on Friday, fewer than 800 remain. Of the ten players who started at my table, only myself, the Norwegian, the Babylonian mortgage broker, and the Paradise Poker kid survived. Over the next three days, about 7500 more people will play, and 2000-3000 will surivive. I play again on Tuesday, when half of the remaining players will play until 800 of us are left. The other half will play on Wednesday, also whittling their numbers down to 800, and if I survive Tuesday, all 1600 of us will play again on Thursday. I'll be working during the day today and going to see Carlos Santana tonight at the MGM Grand. Thanks to everyone for all of your support, and I'll continue to keep you updated.